The member celebration will pay tribute to the commodores that ensured the traditions of the club lived on.
The Halifax River Yacht Club is steeped in tradition — both old and new — and on May 15, members will celebrate its 125th anniversary.
The club is the oldest continuously operating yacht club on the East Coast that has kept its original location of 331 S. Beach St., having been founded in 1896 in Daytona Beach. From a champagne toast accompanied by a harpist, to dinner and jazz, the anniversary celebration will be the club's biggest event of the year.
After 2020's coronavirus impacts, being able to celebrate the club's anniversary made Commodore Terri Parsons say "Hallelujah."
“I’m just very, very proud to be a part of it — a tiny little snippet of it," Parsons said.
Parsons, a member since 2005, has been at the helm of the yacht club since Jan. 1, as commodores all serve one-year terms. She is the third female commodore since the club was founded, though Parsons said she doesn't pay that much mind. A big part of the anniversary celebration is paying tribute to all the commodores that pushed the club forward, in times of war, sickness and economic downturns.
All living commodores, including 2020's Commodore Chris Brown, will be lined up in the lobby on May 15 to greet members.
The yacht club is about growing leaders, said Kelly Wagner, past first lady and president of the Halifax River Yacht Club Commodore's Association Associates. Wagner, of Ormond Beach, said her role is to embrace and support new commodores, just like she and her husband Glenn were when he was commodore in 2016.
“It’s significant having a female leader during COVID times, and still has her passion for the club, it’s very touching," Wagner said.
125 years of history
The club's creation began on Jan. 8, 1896. A group of 13 sailing enthusiasts met, with Sumner H. Gove presiding as president. It was on that day that the men unanimously decided they would name their club the "Halifax River Yacht Club," and they elected their first commodore: Victor Vuillaume.
During that first year, members met across the street in a building owned by Laurence Thompson, who gave permission in March 1896 to construct a pier and connect it to the seawall in front of his property. The pier was completed later that year, and the first meeting in the new clubhouse was held on Feb. 10, 1897.
The club's membership continued to meet in that clubhouse, which gained new additions and was renovated over the 110-year period, until a new clubhouse was built in 2007 on the land that previously was the parking lot for the club. The original clubhouse was removed afterward and replaced with additional docks.
But, the club is more than just a building, as its history wall highlights.
The majority of its original members lived and worked within a few blocks of the clubhouse, and by the turn of the century, club activities happened year-round. Members met for boating purposes of course, but also to socialize. They held banquets and balls in the Opera House across Beach Street, picnicked at Silver Beach and Ponce Inlet, and cruised the Tomoka River.
Membership increased after World War II in the late 1940s and 1950s, and a women's restroom was finally in 1959. While membership fluctuates every month, April having seen an increase of 10 members, Parsons said they do have 91 members just from Ormond Beach.
Some notable members of the early days include builder Charles Ballough, businessman Charles Burgoyne, Procter and Gamble co-founder James N. Gamble.
The club remains active in the community. Every year, it raises funds for charity through its annual Christmas boat parade and hosts toy drives. The Commadears, a group of women within the club, also collect items to donate to the Beacon Center, an organization that helps victims of domestic abuse.
The club doesn't forget about its own either. Parsons said that, even though the yacht club closed for a few months due to COVID-19, the membership raised enough funds to make sure none of their staff members missed a paycheck.
“There’s a lot of comradery, and that’s what I’m most proud of," Parsons said.
The club is always looking to grow its membership, particularly among the younger crowd, which is one of the reasons Parsons is hoping to start a new singles group and expand their business outreach.
The Halifax River Yacht club is a family, Wagner said. No boat necessary.
When she joined in 2005, she and her husband didn't know anyone in the area. Recalling the inclusion she felt when they joined brings Wagner to tears. She remembers the joy she felt when, at her first ball, she was told that they weren't alone — that they did have friends.
"This is a place where people feel like they're family," Wagner said. "We don’t always agree, but we agree on one thing: Our beloved yacht club."